Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots spoke of “tremendous opportunities” and “room to manoeuvre” in the wake of Brexit for the region’s farming sector at this year’s Oxford Farming Conference.

Minister Poots was joined by his UK counterparts – Defra Secretary of State George Eustice MP, Scottish Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing and Welsh Minister Lesley Griffiths – for an online panel discussion held to celebrate 75 years of the world-renown conference.

The theme for this year’s conference was ‘A Farming Business Fit for the Future’.

Speaking during the session, Minister Poots said he saw leaving the EU as an opportunity to develop a sustainable agricultural industry with policies that would benefit every farmer.

“As I approach the end of my first year in office, it has been one of the most dramatic and challenging years in living memory.

“Whilst Covid-19 has severely impacted our industry and all our lives for most of 2020, the UK has now left the EU and most particularly the CAP.

Against this background, I see tremendous opportunities and room to manoeuvre like we have not had in almost 50 years.

Minister Poots explained his vision for future agriculture in Northern Ireland was “defined around four outcomes”.

He listed these as:

  • Increased productivity;
  • Environmental sustainability;
  • Improved resilience; and
  • Supply chain integration.

‘No farmer should be left behind’

“Moving forward, we must join up our environmental ambitions with farm economic activity,” he said.

“Leaving the EU restores our discretion and flexibility with regard to future agricultural support in Northern Ireland.

“It opens the way to creating a new dynamic for key stakeholders across the food, agricultural and environmental spectrum to work with the Northern Ireland government to chart a new way forward with common purpose.

“For this to be successful, it is vital that the long-term outcomes of productivity, environmental sustainability, resilience and supply chain functionality are kept to the fore, which will demand clear analysis based on sound evidence, compromises where necessary and strong leadership at all levels.

“I want to devise support schemes that provide opportunities for all of Northern Ireland’s farmers; no farmer should be left behind.

Farm businesses, no matter where they farm, should become more efficient and maximise the sustainable returns they can achieve from the assets at their disposal.

“These assets include the environmental assets on the farm, and I believe that farms, especially those in the hills and other disadvantaged areas, are well placed to play a major role in delivering more of the environmental outcomes the people who live in Northern Ireland want and that we owe future generations.

“And I believe that farmers should be properly rewarded for delivering these environmental outcomes and achieve a return on the environmental assets present on their farms.”

The minister concluded: “My ultimate aim is to ensure that Northern Ireland takes full advantage of the opportunity to develop a sustainable agricultural industry in which all farmers are supported on an equitable basis to make best use of the assets at their disposal, and to invest in all forms of capital – physical, environmental and human.”